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What are the causes of anger in children?


There are many factors that influence a child’s disposition. Often times, its multiple factors. As a mental health practitioner, I’m seeing it as a growing concern for parents, teachers and communities. Over the past ten years we’ve heard horror stories of children committing unspeakable crimes resulting from anger control problems. While most children are not at risk for this level of aggression, some children struggle with significant difficulty in regulating their emotions, especially anger. In many schools across the country, aggressive and destructive behavior is a huge concern. Teachers are frightened, other students are at risk and the learning process is disrupted.
In homes, parents express feeling helpless from the unpredictable, frequent anger outbursts. They’re frustrated that tried and true discipline techniques fail to stop the outbursts. They feel held captive by their children.
Let’s talk about the sources of anger in children. There is no diagnosis for anger, but it often occurs with other mental, emotional and developmental disorders.
Genetic disposition—Brain research is inconclusive on how much genetics play a part in anger control. A study conducted by a university in Germany found that people with anger problems had a gene that predisposed them to anger control issues. This gene affected their dopamine levels –the chemical related to anger and aggression.
Oppositional defiant disorder—This is a disorder where a child is chronically uncooperative, refuses to follow adult instructions, frequently breaks the rules, and is generally annoying to those in authority. They get angry easily, say mean things and can be generally hurtful to others. Children who have this disorder are at risk for developing a conduct disorder as teens. This is a more serious disorder with most significant negative consequences. Children with conduct disorder often engage in illegal, criminal behavior. They often steal, hurt others and are more difficult for parents to manage.
ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) -This disorder is marked by significant impairment in ability to concentrate, pay attention, organization, impulsiveness and disruptive behaviors One study has shown that children with ADHD also have ODD. Therefore, anger and aggression is also a problem for these children.
Autism and Asperger’s—anger control and aggression is often associated with children who have these conditions. General emotional regulation is an issue for children on the spectrum. They get frustrated easily, sometimes struggle with being able to express their feelings and become angry. If a child has sensory issues, they are more prone to anger outbursts.
Other causes of anger in children:
Unstable living conditions
Learning problems
Speech problems
Lisa Savage, LCSW

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Lisa Savage
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